'We're all one country, we're all Americans': Aces star Angel McCoughtry views jersey initiative as seed for change

Angel McCoughtry heard the talk. Basketball is a distraction right now, players said. It’s tough to play and fight for social justice simultaneously, some added.

So the Las Vegas Aces star got to work. She pitched a #SayTheirNames initiative to feature the names of those killed by police on WNBA players’ jerseys at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. It received widespread support, though that’s not where the work for racial justice stops.

“I see some negative comments that people are like, ‘What’s this going to do, putting the name on the jersey?’ Well, it’s planting the seed,” McCoughtry told Yahoo Sports. “We plant those seeds because when you plant the seeds, they grow.”

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That seed was even considered by the NBA — a positive given its platform, but McCoughtry wants women’s voices heard — and what it can grow into is endless. It will take some individual nurturing and what emerges will hopefully be a more unified country.

“[This is] for our ancestors who didn’t have a chance to speak as loud as we can now through social media and technology,” said McCoughtry, a 10-year veteran and former No. 1 pick of the Atlanta Dream. “I think it's just important for ourselves, for our nation.

“I don’t want to be the laughingstock of the world. I don’t want to live in the most racist country in the world. I don’t want people to divide.”

America divided by forms, labels, disparity

McCoughtry remembers her father comforting her mother after training white employees to a promotion she was qualified for but never given. An older man twice stepped on her foot on a flight, demanding she learn to keep it out of the aisle, and bristled when she stuck up for herself. Her reasons for this initiative are endless.


“We all have a story and we’re tired of having these stories,” said McCoughtry, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA.

There’s one story she remembers, a comment made to her while playing overseas, that sticks out above the rest as she answers why she’s so passionate, so driven, so rightfully loud.

“I’ve been in other countries and actually someone once said to me, ‘Why do you guys always say black and white? Aren’t y’all American?’” McCoughtry said. “And it alway stuck with me because, yeah, we’re all American. I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, yellow, blue. We’re all a country. We’re supposed to be together and we’re so divided. Every little community is so divided.”

Even forms make that division clear, starting with “white” and classifying everyone else as “African American” or “Asian American.” Those of mixed race have for years noted the difficulty in checking a singular box.


“I’m American. You know what I mean?” McCoughtry said. “That’s what we’ve got to get back to because you look at other countries and, yeah, in France they have black [and] white, just like we do. In Britain [too]. But they’re French. Or they’re English. They’re Spanish.

“But [here it’s], oh, she’s African American. No, I’m American. I’m born here just like you. Yeah, my ancestors are not from here but nobody’s ancestors are from America. We’re not saying, ‘Oh, you’re white American. You’re European American.’ We’re the ones broken down.

“We’re all from different places. None of us are from this land; we’re all immigrants. So at the end of the day, I’m tired of the breakdowns. We’re all one country, in liberty and justice for all. We’re all Americans.”

That’s why she sat down with her personal team and brainstormed what she could do to both play her initial season with the Aces, a title contender, and continue fighting for social justice.


#SayTheirNames builds relationships with police brutality victims’ families

USA Women's National Team forward Angel McCoughtry (8) smiles a she comes off the court during an NCAA women's exhibition basketball game against Louisville Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Angel McCoughtry doesn't like the divisions she sees in America. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

The jerseys are meant bring national awareness to those killed by police and to the healthcare workers on the frontline of the pandemic. If it gets approved McCoughtry wants to honor Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old ER technician who was sleeping in her Louisville apartment when police entered on a no-knock warrant in March. They fatally shot her with at least eight gunshots.

McCoughtry, a Louisville alumna, said she has connections to the Taylor family, and though they haven’t spoken directly, she said she “heard through the grapevine that they love” the jersey idea. The next step would be building a relationship with them and advocating for their beliefs on a larger, louder level.


“It’s so many ideas once we start to create those relationships,” she said. “We [can] just do so many different initiatives to help with the families, so that’s the goal.”

For the Taylor family, it would start with justice because the officers have not been arrested or charged. For other families that don’t have the media attention, it may mean other things like a push for legal change. It could include scholarships, creating and promoting foundations and even more personal touches. If she were to wear Floyd’s name, she said, one thing she could do is bring his daughter to a game in Minnesota or help her get into the sport if she were interested.

As for those players who are stepping away from basketball this year to focus solely on social justice, she’s not judging.


“That’s just double advocacy,” she said. “To the girls or the guys who decided to take off to fight, that’s even better.”

NBA, WNBA could collaborate more on ideas

The NBA Players Association has been working with its league on the jersey idea, though sources told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes it’s unlikely to proceed. The reported interest came days after McCoughtry shared it.

She’s glad the NBA caught on and said she recognizes the larger platform the men’s league holds. But, she said, she doesn’t want women’s voices to be stepped on. Most coverage hasn’t referenced the WNBA, or that she pitched this widely.


“We want the women to be taken seriously in what they say and what they advocate for. This is another pandemic that we’ve been trying to overcome: women being able to speak their minds and be taken seriously,” she said, sharing as an example how women were imprisoned and tortured for wanting to vote. “We all know when a man says no, it’s no. When a women says no, it’s a negotiation. So we’re trying to get out of that with everything we’re speaking out on and just support social injustice.”

In the future, especially when it comes to social justice work, she said she wants to see more collaboration between the NBA and WNBA.

“It’s all for a good cause. We all need to get on this,” she said.

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